Program and Panel
Welcome by the Bradley Center ’s WILLIAM SCHAMBRA
AUDREY ALVARADO, National Council of Nonprofit Associations
DONALD EBERLY, former deputy assistant to the President, White House OFBCI
JOSEPH LOCONTE, Ethics and Public Policy Center
ROBERT WOODSON, SR., Center for Neighborhood Enterprise
For over a quarter century -- from President Carter's interest in neighborhood revitalization, through President Reagan's "private sector initiatives" effort, President George H.W. Bush's "thousand points of light," President Clinton's interest in community and national service, and President George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives -- the private, voluntary, often faith-based associations of civil society have played an important and expanding role in presidential administrations and in our nation's public policy. Over that time, the nonprofit sector has grown immensely, in number of organizations, in wealth generated, and in number of citizens employed and engaged voluntarily.
Given the experience of current and past administrations and the current state of the sector, what is likely to be the next phase of the civil society agenda? What public policies have advanced or hindered that agenda? What new roles might nonprofits and foundations be expected to play? What can government usefully do to advance the agenda? On June 20, 2006, these and other questions were addressed by a distinguished panel of experts, including Audrey Alvarado of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, former deputy assistant to the President/Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Donald Eberly, Joseph Loconte of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise founder Robert Woodson, Sr. The Bradley Center's William Schambra served as the discussion's moderator.
prepared by Rita Koganzon
Donald Eberly began the discussion by tracing both the history of federal civil society programs and the criticisms they garnered as being “privatizing” initiatives aimed at neglecting the poor. He argued that they actually represented a reversal of the top-down scientific management philosophy that had dominated government programs in the twentieth century. Civil society was gaining momentum, and even globalizing, as traditional philanthropies began to establish international presences, including faith-based organizations. Eberly said that Bush’s support for faith-based organizations will be most crucial in the upcoming decades, when religion will play a major role in social change, particularly such trends as the growing cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics, the urban megachurch, social-service vouchers, and a general “private sector war on poverty.”
Robert Woodson discussed the transformative role of faith in poor communities, and the resistance against talking about religion publicly. But he was also concerned that the fear of violating the separation of church and state led to the hesitation on the part of corporate and other large funders to donate to faith-based charities. He argued that it was the lack of a faith component and an emphasis on secular achievement in previous anti-poverty programs aimed at the black community that in some ways led to the breakdown of the black family and the black community. He also expressed concern over direct federal funding of faith-based initiatives, and argued on behalf of vouchers to individuals instead. He also advocated tax credits rather than tax deductions, and fewer licensing requirements or more opt-out opportunities for faith-based organizations so that they may serve those who ask, and are not forced to serve those who do not want a religious approach. He called for more accountability for all social service initiative, public and private, so that competing approaches can be tested against each other.
Joseph Loconte expanded on Don Eberly’s description of the growing international focus on civil society, pointing to Afghanistan and Iraq as examples of the need to encourage the institutions of civil society before other political aims there can be achieved. He also considered the question of human rights extending to protections of civil society as a buffer between the individual and the state. At home, civil society serves two functions—a “Good Samaritan function,” and a “prophetic function” as a source of dissent from the government and an important guardian of democracy. The success of civil society in these roles rests on the “ability to worship God according to one’s conscience.” Loconte argued that religious belief is the cornerstone liberty which makes all other liberties possible, and the secular elites’ attack on religion as an irrational madness threatens civil society itself. However, he expressed concern that if the government did not abide by religiously neutral funding standards or if churches did not refrain from endorsing candidates, there would be an overstepping of the separation between church and state.
Audrey Alvarado warned against what she saw as the increasing politicization in Washington that was preventing crucial work from taking place, as in the case of the government’s ineffective response to Hurricane Katrina. A growing feeling that government is not capable of protecting citizens is leading people to come together and try to address these problems through civil associations instead. She agreed with Bob Woodson that faith was in important aspect of this push, but cautioned against allowing faith to get in the way of civility. Her hope was that faith-based and secular groups would find ways to address problems together. She added that a current impediment to civil society’s ability to support democracy is the difficulty nonprofits face in engaging in advocacy on behalf of their constituents.
Bill Schambra opened up the floor for questions, and asked Pastor Lee Earl of Shiloh Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA if he had anything to add. Pastor Earl was unsure whether some of the spontaneous, grassroots work of individuals in blighted neighborhoods could be imitated programmatically. He also brought up the power differential between the providers of many public services and their recipients, and the role that this played in building trust between these groups. He agreed with Bob Woodson that accountability was important to developing that trust. Brian Karlsson, of George Washington University, asked whether it was a distortion of many institutions of civil society to look at their social benefits when those benefits are not the express purpose of the organizations. Joseph Loconte agreed that instrumentalizing organizations is a problem, as when people who oppose the Boy Scouts’ policy of exclusion of homosexual leaders evaluate the entire organization based on its results alone and conclude that a secular organization can equally well engage young boys in civic and athletic activities. This view fails to take into account the holistic Christian character of the organization.
This event transcript was prepared from an audio recording and edited by Krista Shaffer. To request further information on this event, the transcript, or the Bradley Center, please contact Hudson Institute at (202) 974-2424 or e-mail Krista at firstname.lastname@example.org.